Tag Archives: goals

Reflections on month two of our no spend summer

We were not as successful this month as last month. We made a handful of unnecessary purchases on our debit card in desperation, not because we needed things but because we wanted them. I know, I know, we’re bad. But this is an experiment. In the beginning we set a goal, and even though we’ve had some setbacks, we’ve still accomplished our main goal: getting through the summer without spending our savings.

We made a short trip to Myrtle Beach to see The Wallflowers. It was a lot of fun, and aside from the tickets we bought in May and a couple gallons of gas, it didn’t set back our budget at all.

We also made the decision to splurge on concert tickets to see Paul McCartney. While this wasn’t part of our no spend summer plan, it wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t spent the summer saving.

The biggest benefit we’ve experienced this month is we’re getting much better at sticking to our grocery budget. I’ve learned to estimate the cost of items based on past experiences, so we have no surprises at the checkout. I know when we’re over budget, which allows us to reprioritize, cut things out, and come in at the right amount. If that’s the only skill we’ve learned through cash budgeting, I’d say it’s absolutely worth it.

While it’s been more difficult this month and we’ve faced more setbacks, I’d still call it a success. After all, we haven’t touched our summer savings, and we’ll even have enough extra money to buy new tires and do some necessary maintanance on the car without dipping into our emergency fund.

How’s your budgeting going this summer?

Stop making excuses & start making progress

weight lossI used to be the queen of excuses and procrastination. Whether I wanted to lose 10 pounds, start saving, or accomplish a lifelong goal, today was never the right day for it. I always made lofty plans for the future, but I didn’t realize that when it comes to accomplishing your goals, tomorrow is no good. The only way to make progress is to start today.

Constantly making excuses for why tomorrow is better is a good way to prevent yourself from ever making progress at all. The day I realized that my temporary delays were holding me back, and setting a goal for tomorrow results in a never-ending delay, I discovered the key to achieving all of my goals.

Here’s how to get motivated if you’re battling excuses:

Tell yourself enough is enough.

Have you been talking about losing that last 10 pounds (or 50) for the past two years, but always have good reason to wait? “My diet starts after this weekend,” or “As of January 1, I am on a diet,” were my mantras for years. One day I finally said enough is enough. My diet started that minute, and 6 months later I was 40 pounds thinner. Enough is enough. It’s time to get started, because there will always be a reason to wait.

Visualize your goal.

Now that you’ve gotten started, you’re at the hardest part: you know what you want, but you haven’t started to see the motivating results. Now is the time when you need to remind yourself of how sweet it will be when you’ve accomplished your goal. It helps me to remind myself with a little symbol for what I want. Whether it’s your wedding photo from when you were at your ideal weight or a picture of the dream house you’re saving to buy, give yourself a reason to push through the tough part before you start seeing your progress.

Track your progress.

Once you do start to see progress, it’s essential that you do whatever it takes to maintain your motivation. When I was losing weight, I weighed myself daily and took pictures in my bathing suit so I could compare and see the changes. If you’re saving money or paying off debt, tally your total saved or paid every week and figure out a percentage for your progress. Seeing that percentage increase with every dollar will keep you going.

Good luck achieving your goals, and remember, the only way you’re going to get there is if you get started right now!

Photo credit: nataliej

Should we pay off all debt before buying a home?


We’ve been doing some big planning again for the future. That’s always dangerous. :) But lately, we’ve been talking about a timeline for becoming homeowners.

The closer Tony gets to finishing school (about 17 months now), the more confident we feel that we want to live near family. We’re pretty set on starting our own family shortly after Tony finds a teaching job, and we don’t want to raise our kids more than a couple hours away from their grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Now that we’re pretty sure we know where we want to settle down, we’ve been bitten by the homeowner bug. We want a backyard where the dog can run, and we want more space of our own for our family. Our original plan was to rent a house when we move. Then I started looking at the cost of rent for even small houses.

I don’t know how much the market will change in the next couple years, but as of right now with our stellar credit history and low housing costs in the Midwest, a small, older home in Indiana would likely yield a lower mortgage payment than we’d pay to rent a comparable home, especially if we can save a chunk of change for a down payment. It just doesn’t make sense to me for us to pay more in rent than we would if we owned a home, especially since we don’t want to move again for a long time. We’ve spent the last 6 years of our lives moving way too frequently. We’re ready to just settle down and stay put.

The only problem is that we won’t be anywhere near paying off our student loan debt. In the past I had lofty dreams about paying down our student loans before even thinking about buying a home. But now I’m just not so sure.

Currently, our only remaining debt is $60,000 in student loans. It’s overwhelming, and when I think about trying to pay that down, save for a house, and survive all on one teacher’s salary, it feels impossible.

The plan was to move into an apartment, pay down that debt, and then start saving for a down payment for a home after that. I’m just concerned that on that plan we’ll be 35 before we can start saving for a home.

So we’ve been talking about an alternative plan: continuing to save as much money as we can, renting a tiny apartment for a year or so after we move to save even more money for a down payment, and then buying a home. Then we’ll work toward paying off student loan debt from there.

Even the tiniest apartment will be doable for just a year while we’re working toward the goal of home ownership. The longest amount of time we’d have to live there with a baby would be 3 months (and that’s under the unlikely circumstance that I got pregnant immediately after we start trying). However, I wouldn’t want to be cramped like that for the long term while we paid off student loan debt and saved for a house for 5+ years.

Right now we’re paying a little more than the minimum amount on the student loan debt, and that’s what we’d continue to pay while saving for a house. Now that we’re out of credit card debt, I feel okay about paying off the student loan debt slowly while we’re getting started. It’s going to take us so much time to pay off, I just don’t want to wait years to start working toward other goals.

What do you think?

Can we afford an extended trip to Europe?: Part 2

eiffel tower
Photo by stevenvanwel

A few weeks ago, Tony and I started doing the math to see if it would be possible to stay in Europe for two months. We decided to think about it, see if we could save the money, and go from there. After looking at all of our options, we’ve decided to go back to our original plan for a two-week trip in May 2010.

There were a number of reasons, and I wanted to share them with you:


We’re on track to save enough money for our emergency fund, moving expenses, and the extended Europe trip. However, we’ll also be moving across the country and searching for jobs as soon as we were to return from our trip. As much as I wanted to take this trip, I think it’s safer and smarter to hang on to as much money as possible in case we need it during our transition.


This factored into our decision even more than money. The fact is, the only time we could take this trip would be early spring 2011. Tony graduates in December 2010, so we’d be moving out of our apartment, moving our stuff back up north, and preparing for life in the Midwest at the same time. When I think about planning a big move while simultaneously planning a huge trip to Europe, I feel more stress than I’m comfortable facing.

Ease of planning.

Trying to plan the most frugal way to stay in another country for two months was overwhelming. It’s much easier to plan for two weeks. Short term hotels are easier to book than long term rentals. We’ll be able to afford to see and do more in two weeks of vacation than we could in two months living frugally. Trying to plan a huge trip for our first experience abroad seems a little over my head. And of course, two months is a very long time to leave our dog, even if he is with family.


As fun as this trip would be, thoughts of what would face us upon our return to the States could spoil the trip. If we head to Europe before we secure jobs or decide where we’re going to live, I know I would stress throughout the trip about our next steps. Separating our vacation to Europe from our move and going on the trip when I have a secure job with paid vacation time will allow us to focus on having fun. We’ll have six months after the trip to plan the move and decide what to do after Tony graduates.

In the end, all of these factors combined made us decide to nix the extended trip. I’m not saying it was a bad idea. It was an idea — one that I’m really glad we considered.

If every time we wanted something big we thought to ourselves, “There’s no way we can afford that. We shouldn’t even consider it,” then we’d be limited by our decision to live frugally. Instead, I choose to weigh all of our options, think things through, and balance our wants and needs.

I love that frugality allows us to dream big. We can often accomplish these big goals. But sometimes after weighing the options, we decide on a different course. That’s okay. To me, the ability to make these choices for ourselves is one of the best parts about frugality.

Thoughts on our first month of cash budgeting


Photo by lincolnblues

I can’t believe it’s been a whole month since we began our cash budget. It has flown by so quickly, but I guess that’s a good thing.

As I wrote yesterday, the longer we go, the harder it gets to keep it up. A lot of our initial excitement and motivation has faded. For the first couple of weeks we had plenty of money left over. For the last two weeks, we’ve spent every penny of our weekly $90 allowance for groceries, household expenses, and entertainment (sometimes a little more).

But there have been some definite benefits to our cash budget. I’ve lost 7 pounds, and I think Tony’s lost a few, too, though he doesn’t know what he weighed in the beginning. We’ve also been having a lot of fun rediscovering frugal activities and trying new meals.

I’m surprised at how well we abstained from using our debit cards. One week we forgot to pick up romaine for the salads I bring to work for lunch. We ended up debiting a little under $4 for 6 heads of romaine at Costco. That’s the only debit charge that’s come out of our main bank account.

I’d be lying if I said that’s the only “extra spending” we’ve done. I started the summer with about $50 in an ING checking account (including a $25 bonus they sent me for opening the account). I didn’t count this with our summer money, because I was counting on some slip ups.

A few dollars here and there have been charged on the card for expenses that we didn’t plan for in the budget (a little under $20 total). I’m leaving the $30 left in the account out of this month’s budget, too, so it’ll be there if we need a little help making it through the week. Yes, it’s technically cheating because it is a debit card, but I knew we weren’t going to be perfect. Planning ahead for errors has made it easier to manage.

The good news is we’re getting better. Last week we trimmed our grocery budget down by $10 to avoid going over budget. Motivation is harder to come by, but practice is making us better at cash budgeting without going over.

As I look at our success, I’m feeling a renewed motivation. I’m going to need it to get through the next two months!

A little symbol to remind us of our goals

Photo by benklemm

Just last week I wrote about the importance of dreaming big. Sometimes the day-to-day reality of living frugally can be tough. Having big goals to remind you why you decided to scrimp and save can make it easier. By keeping my eye on the prize, I’m reminded of why the daily sacrifices are so worth it.

It’s been almost a month since we cut back to a limited cash budget for the summer. Even though we’ve been living frugally for almost two years, this is more extreme than anything we’ve ever done. I’ve been reminding myself of our big goals more frequently lately to stay on track as it’s starting to get a little tougher.

One of our biggest goals is an extended trip to Europe after my husband finishes grad school in a year and a half. We’re trying to save enough cash for two frugal months in Europe in addition to money for moving and an emergency fund. This is a huge goal, which is part of the reason we’re cutting back even more than before.

Last week, I received a tangible reminder to keep with me. My lovely friend Kacie at Sense to Save sent me about 15 US dollars worth of euros that her husband collected in an overseas trip. Her bank wouldn’t let her convert the coins, so she sent them over to me in the hopes that we’ll be able to use them on our trip. (Thanks, Kacie!)

These little coins have actually been incredibly helpful. It seems silly, but having something tangible to keep the trip on our minds is exciting! It motivates me to push that much harder toward our goal. I look at those little coins, and I’m so excited about the possibility of this trip that the daily extras don’t seem so important anymore. They serve as a symbol for why we’re working so hard.

If you have a big goal you’re working toward, why not see if a tangible reminder can help keep you on track? If you’re saving for a new car, maybe you could pick up an air freshener and save it until you can hang it from your new rear view mirror. If you’re saving for a new house, maybe pick up a piece of art at a yard sale or a welcome mat for when you move in.

Having a tangible symbol of your goals not only feels like a step toward accomplishing them, but it also serves as a reminder of why you’re working so hard.

Have you ever tried this? Leave a comment if you have an idea!

The importance of dreaming big

frugal goals
Photo by martie

I’m the first to tell you that frugality is a real struggle sometimes. No matter how committed I am to this lifestyle, no matter how appreciative I am of the security and peace of mind it brings us, I still have weak moments when I look at what other people have and want.

I want to own a pretty little house with a huge fenced-in backyard and a cozy fireplace.

I want to travel every other month and see the world.

I sometimes even want to buy big ticket items that we don’t need just for the luxury, like a big screen TV or new furniture or even a second car.

But the hardest part isn’t the big stuff. I can always easily remind myself why we need to wait for those things. I remember what debt feels like, and I don’t want to owe a furniture store or a credit card company ever again.

The hardest part is not spending little amounts every day. Sometimes I find myself wishing I could spend $5 on a frou frou coffee drink from Starbucks or $15 on a book or $30 on a restaurant meal.

Don’t get me wrong, we give in to those urges every now and then. But we can’t give in every time I want to or we’d never make any progress. We’d nickel and dime ourselves right out of our savings.

When I find myself struggling to say no to the little things, I remind myself of our big dreams. Our trip to Europe, the house we want, the family we plan to start in the next couple years. When I think about those big dreams, and how every penny is bringing us closer to achieving them, it’s much easier to resist the temptation to spend a little here and a little there.

When I think about our big dreams, suddenly buying a frou frou coffee drink isn’t nearly as important. I can live without that little stuff if it means we’ll have the big stuff sooner.

How do you keep yourself going when frugality gets tough?

Life before our emergency fund

Every once in a while I’m struck by the difference between life now and life before we started living frugally. Back when we made more money than we do now, but we were always strapped for cash. Back when a car problem or unexpected bill could completely wipe us out and then some.

It hasn’t been easy to keep it up. Like any frugal family, we struggle constantly to avoid falling into old habits. The more we save, the more comfortable we become. We start to feel invincible. After all, with several thousand dollars in the bank, we can weather most unexpected expenses without stress. We start to feel the itch to spend more.

I have to remind myself that even though we may have more money in the bank than we’ve ever had, that money is what stands between us and disaster. The more money we’re able to save, the safer we become. Sure, we could pay our car insurance deductible with no problem. We could pay our entire health insurance deductible for the year without breaking a sweat if it was necessary. But what if I lost my job? What if I couldn’t work anymore? We have enough saved to make it a couple months, but the thought of emptying the savings account we’ve worked so hard to build is terrifying. Then what? When that money is gone, what do we do next?

More importantly, though, I never want to spend just because we can. Spending just because the money is there is how people with twice our income remain constantly broke. If we can keep saving, keep living frugally no matter how much we have in the bank or how much we make in a year, then we’ll always be one step ahead of ourselves. We’ll be capable of dealing with any financial disaster, and we’ll never be broke.

It’s amazing what an emergency fund can do for your peace of mind.

Thoughts on our first cash-only weekend

We made it through our first cash-only weekend! It has been quite a challenge, but it’s actually been fun! Here are some highlights:


We didn’t use our debit cards once! The only money we spent was from the $90 we withdrew on Saturday.

We also didn’t go over budget! After buying groceries and seeing a matinee, we have $20 left. This is the exact amount we budgeted for household expenses. Because we didn’t need any household items this week, we’ll hang on to that $20 for a later week when we’ll inevitably need more than $20 for necessary household expenses.

The biggest victory is that I’m not dreading our bottom line. Most weekends, I cringe when I look at Mint the following week and see how much we spent. This week, I know exactly how much we spent, and I know we didn’t blow our budget. Yay!


This afternoon, the weather was beautiful and I felt the urge to go out to lunch someplace with patio seating. Because we didn’t have cash for it in the budget, we didn’t go. It was tough, though.

Instead, we took a drive to the beach, walked the dog around a nearby lake, and got some work done. In the end, our choice was healthier for us physically and financially, so I’d say our cash-only budget is having positive effects beyond our bank accounts.


We technically didn’t follow our own rules. Because we were $9 under budget for groceries, we should have ended the weekend with $29 in pocket. Part of the deal was that we would hang on to extra cash if we went under budget for later weeks or something fun at the end of the summer. Instead of hanging on to it, we spent an extra $4 over our entertainment budget because the new Pixar movie “Up” wasn’t playing at the cheap theater. We also picked up a couple extra items at the grocery store for $3 total.

After a weekend of success (with our cash-only budget and with my diet), I was seriously craving ice cream. But I couldn’t bear to break the $20 bill that had survived the weekend. I had $1 in my pocket, plus we had change scattered around the house and in the car. We scrounged together $2.50 and headed to the grocery store to pick up some ice cream sandwiches.

While it was technically cheating, it was definitely the most fun we’ve had on a cash budget. Working hard to scrounge together the money for that ice cream made it that much sweeter, and knowing that we could only spend $2.50 limited our choices.

My unwillingness to part with that $20 bill already shows a change in how I’m viewing money, particulary cash. In the past, I would have viewed that as “extra money” already removed from our account. Now I view it as “household expenses” money that we’ll most likely need in a future week. I didn’t want to spend it, because I knew we would probably need it later to avoid using our debit cards.

If we had gone to the grocery store to pick up ice cream with our debit cards, we might have spent $4 on specialty ice cream instead of the store-brand ice cream sandwiches we chose. I hate to admit it, but when it’s only $4 coming from our bank account instead of breaking a whole $20 bill, I would have been much more likely to spend it. Those little purchases add up, though, which is the reason we’re trying this experiment.

Overall, I think our first weekend was a success! And so far we’re having fun. It’s certainly changing the way we view money. I’m looking forward to more challenges and successes for the next three months. Stay tuned!